In October, I got an email from a Women’s Money Group member that moved me. Here’s part of what she said*:
“Last month I left with such a headache I did not know if I would be back, but I am glad I came. I was having a horrible day and all I wanted to do was stay home alone. I see I have so many emotions and feelings (guilt, fear…) related to money, in addition to [a difficult personal situation]. I have so much to learn and do before I can truly understand what is going on, but with the little I did grasp from last meeting I sensed I gained a little confidence and felt so much better for taking care of myself. Talking to you made me feel I am not such a lost case after all.”
This week, this from another attendee*:
“Since I joined WMG and started paying attention to my money issues, things have been intense. I’d also like to mention a big project I completed this week. I went through 5 boxes of random paper, mainly financial documents, that had been languishing under my desk for years. I was able to let go of most of the documents, which was a relief. But looking at all the paperwork gave me a good idea of my money habits and history over the last 20 years. Hard to swallow, but illuminating. I made notes. I’m definitely in a chronic pattern of under-earning and not knowing what I want to be when I grow up. I have my inner and outer work cut out for me. I pulled an all-nighter on Sunday to finish this cleanup, alongside a small freelance job. Then I got sick. (Not the first time since joining WMG. I’m usually more robust.) My health mirrors my terror about taking responsibility for myself. I’m scared that I don’t have what it takes to break through the old patterns. It’s a tender spot. I’ve failed. A lot.”
I’ve failed. A lot.
Not such a lost case after all.
Heavy words with even heavier emotions behind them. In both cases, I felt the weight of judgment and self-doubt come through my monitor, and I immediately wanted to hug these women. I get it. I’ve been there. They are not alone, nor are they a lost cause.
Over the years, I have heard variations of these sentiments from so many women. What’s sobering in most cases is that the women don’t point to external factors as the reason for their failures. They look in the mirror and find themselves wanting. Implicit in their utterances is a feeling of not having what it takes to succeed; not having accomplished enough; not meeting expectations or standards; of not being enough.
To these two women and to all who have experienced some form of self-judgment or self-loathing about financial failure, I pass on this suggestion: Let go of the shackles of the past, regardless of the reasons or circumstances behind your experiences. Maybe you screwed up; maybe you didn’t. It doesn’t matter. Your future is not dictated by your past. Let it go.
Let go of the judgment.
Let go of the blame.
Let go of the shame.
There is only one good use for the negative stuff from our past and that’s to inform our choices for the present. Your future is moulded by your choices today, and the next day, and the next. Today matters a great deal.
Look back on your past with the eyes of a researcher:
- What happened?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it affect your results?
- What can you learn from those experiences to ensure better results moving forward?
- What choices can you make today that would be congruent with your values and support you in your goals?
When the inner voice of judgment starts its familiar refrain, shut it down instantly by reminding yourself that you are a researcher. You’re in it to understand what happened. Researchers don’t judge; they seek to understand. Their findings are used to create better, faster, stronger, more effective systems or approaches.
Use your most cherished values as a guide to determine your next steps. What’s in your highest, best interests? I can guarantee you that the answer to this question won’t involve berating yourself.
The art of not giving up on yourself starts with the recognition that you are human. We are all flawed beings. We makes mistakes; a lot of them. The fact that you’ve made mistakes simply makes you human; it doesn’t make you hopeless.
If you keep focusing on past disappointments, you empower the past. Without your attention, the past has no power. Without your belief, it has no power. Accept the past, learn from it, let it go, and move on.
Treat your past as a teacher, not a judge, and hang in there through the learning process. It can be a wild ride, but it pays big dividends if you stick with it. And yes, you definitely have what it takes to break through old patterns. Everyone does. You’ll feel like a rock star when you shed the restrictive patterns from your past. You might even come to realize that you always were a rock star.
*Anonymized and shared with permission
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